Suicide Club by Rachel Heng - Book Review
I don’t read a lot of fiction but I was caught by the theme of Suicide Club as it covers themes that may need to be considered in our near future, not just the fictional one in which it is set.
In the book, the vision of biological immortality has become reality, but has not yet fully arrived. Anti-aging treatments are in their second wave - doubling life expectancy but still using early prototypes and first-generation treatments. Some companies have already been successful with replacement organs and trademarked enhanced tissue solutions such as DiamondSkin, SmartBlood and ToughMusc.
Most people have bought into the idea with everything aimed at minimising damage to the body so as to live as long as possible and increase their chances of surviving to the 3rd wave which will allow everyone to live forever.
They’ve given up meat, become gymoholics and attend regular treatment sessions to monitor their bodies and clean up what damage it can with nanobots in the blood. Simpler technical solutions also provide automated reminders to do hourly stretches and MaxWork alarms prevent employees working so hard that it might affect their health.
Beyond routines that a healthy living individual today might follow, it’s become normal to seal up windows and apply UV filters to them, eat nothing but specially formulated liquid nutrient packs and cut out anything that might cause injury or even stress – so running is out, only gentle swimming is allowed, and any sort of stirring music is banned.
This causes friction in some relationships where one partner may be more committed than the other and is willing to make more home and lifestyle sacrifices, or worries that the other’s behaviour may jeopardise their government issued priority number for new treatments.
This new focus also results in changes to society such that only recipients of the best treatments will live long enough to spend decades training for the best careers, and new laws make it illegal to purposely increase other people's cortisol levels The author also assumes that in developed nations the birth rate has dropped and populations are falling, even with early life extension treatments, so that the state monitors people closely and puts them on an observation list if they’re not behaving as what it would regard as normally. As a punishment, dissidents are put first in line for experimental, but mandatory, treatments.
Out of this new culture springs the Suicide Club – “antisancts” who refuse to follow the rules. Either from a desire for control of their own destiny, because they dread the thought of immortality or they’ve just had enough of life; people join and attend meetings and parties that illegally cater with barbeques and booze. And the martyrs amongst them volunteer to video their suicides though that now requires special pills as the reinforced bodies their treatments bestow on them mean cutting one’s wrists is no longer a simple matter.
And nor is death. Some suffer from misalignment – when replacements and enhancements have different expiry dates meaning some parts of the body are being mechanically kept alive while the rest decays away. This only happens to those who couldn’t afford, or weren’t entitled to, official treatments. A common concern now, and a theme through-out this book, is that life extension treatments will only be available to the rich and the elite.
Heng also addresses the changing-self question and assumes that those living to nearer 200 will still remember childhood experiences but may forget those that happen in the broad expanse of adulthood. As time goes by events make less of an impression and life becomes more a history of general truths and abstract facts rather than emotional details.
As well as the well-considered impacts on society and individuals with the realisation of life extension technologies, the story is compelling with a bracing pace pulling you though the interlinking relationships and events with highs, lows and tearful moments. I’d highly recommend it and I hope if there is a sequel that the fourth wave permits everyone to go back to living normally, even hedonistically, with new treatments able to handle that level of damage.